By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Already this season Thunder have welcomed back Dion Waiters and Serge Ibaka to Chesapeake Energy Arena. Ibaka received what sounded like the longest and loudest ovation ever given to a former player.
Tonight we will surely hear cheers that might rival Ibaka’s welcome when former Thunder head coach Scott Brooks’ name is announced right after the Washington Wizards starting lineup.
Brooks told reporters in D.C. on Tuesday it would be “a little ambitious” to expect a rousing standing ovation.
“I don’t know how they’re going to respond…but I’m hoping,” he started to say before stopping himself and then continuing. “I mean, I know the people. The community, the people of Oklahoma City are phenomenal.”
And Brooks was quoted in the Washington Post as admitting it’s going to be hard to treat tonight’s game as just another one on the schedule.
I’m not going to stand here and just say it’s one of 82 games but it is one of 82 games,” Brooks cracked before adding “Good memories I’m thankful for and looking forward to going back, but I’m also understanding it’s a game that we have to focus on the game and not on anything else.”
Brooks did have a chance to see some close friends and grab dinner at one of his old haunts after the Wizards team charter landed yesterday afternoon and he’s excited about renewing acquaintances with members of the arena’s staff he hasn’t seen since the end of the 2014-15 season.
“We had a great run. Unfortunately it ended for me but that’s the business we’re in,” Brooks said. “I have a lot of respect for the organization. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the players that I coached. I still communicate with all of them. Even now that I’m back in the NBA I’m thankful for the job that I have now but it also brings back a lot of memories.”
Brooks isn’t the only one remembering special times. His former players, especially point guard Russell Westbrook, keeps Brooks in a special place in his heart.
“Scotty, he’s my man, honestly,” Westbrook said after the Thunder’s Tuesday practice. “He gave me a real shot to be able to do some things and let me go out there and make mistakes but he always had my back.”
One of the first things Brooks did after taking over the team from P.J. Carlesimo in the 2008-09 season was give the starting point guard job to Westbrook who wasn’t quite 20 games into his rookie season.
“It was in Memphis, we had a breakfast meeting and he pulled me aside and said ‘you’re starting tonight.’ We didn’t win but it was great to see he had confidence in me to be able to go out and run an NBA team. I was grateful for that and I’m always gonna be grateful for that.”
Westbrook has gone on from that rocky start to become a superstar and Brooks told the Washington media he remembers from Westbrook’s first workout that the kid could be special.
“I was there when we brought him into our pre-draft workout,” Brooks recalled, “and my first thought when we were working him through that workout was, ‘Thank goodness I’m not an NBA point guard anymore because there’s no way I can stay in front of this guy.’
But Scotty certainly couldn’t project just how good Westbrook would become and he still can’t quite believe the assault his former pupil is putting on Oscar Robertson’s triple-double records.
“Nobody thought that there would be Oscar Robertson-type numbers in this league,” Brooks said. “I’m happy he’s successful. He took a lot of criticism – well, we took a lot of criticism but some was probably deserving, but most wasn’t — and give him all the credit. He’s worked his butt off to be the player he is and he deserves what he’s getting right now.”
And Brooks, who won a Coach of the Year Award and 62 percent of the games he coached for Oklahoma City, certainly deserves (and I assume will receive) a rousing welcome back to The Peake from appreciative Thunder fans.